Men and women tend to approach conflict differently. Maybe you’ve observed that most men would rather avoid talking about an issue directly with their spouse, while women seem to relish any opportunity to “clear the air” through a long discussion. Personally, I’m a big believer in the Do No Harm approach; sometimes inaction—or silence—turns out to be the most brilliant move. But what about time-sensitive decisions, where the two of you must quickly get on the same page? And you aren’t even close.
My husband and I are in the middle of a conversation about orthodontics. Our children need braces, and the minimum outlay for all three would end up being around 30 grand. That’s a lot of money! In my view, orthodontia is an expense that belongs in the “need” bucket; I label it high priority as a medical expenditure. My husband, on the other hand, classifies it as a “want.” And wants are low-priority in our family budget, at about the urgency level of a Disney Cruise.
I know that eventually, we’ll find common ground. We didn’t enter marriage expecting to automatically agree on everything related to parenting, pets (oh yeah—some surprisingly big differences of opinion there), and money. That would be unrealistic and kind of dull. But we CAN choose what to say, how to say it, and when: a winning formula that ensures we navigate our differences in a respectful and loving way.
If you and your partner are faced with a similar conflict, and you’re not sure how to resolve it, consider strolling together through this 3-step formula:
WHAT TO SAY
Stick to the point and keep it simple. No bringing up past hurts, past arguments, or “you always…” statements. Put a firewall around the issue you’re exploring and don’t use your current disagreement as an opportunity to bring up other problems you’ve been dying to discuss. Men hear you best when you don’t go on and on. Imagine you are preparing an agenda for a meeting at work: your most effective relationship agenda will feature only ONE item. (In fact, this is a great tip to use anytime you need to communicate with a mostly male audience; men appreciate a woman who can limit a discussion to one actionable issue.)
HOW TO SAY IT
Speak softly, slowly, and respectfully. You probably don’t feel very Spock-like when you are set on a specific outcome and believe you’ve made your case 100 times already. But your tone is everything when talking to a man, so it’s important to get it right. Female friends can often look past your stressed tone and brush off an emotional delivery. In fact, women are often more inclined to follow your lead and agree with you when they see that you are emotionally invested. An animated, overwrought speech just doesn’t work as well when you’re talking to a man.
WHEN TO SAY IT
Initiate a conversation ONLY as a last resort, and give him time to digest your point of view. It is true that many situations can resolve themselves without intervention on your part, so always try this strategy first: Do nothing. Once you say something, you can never un-say it. By rigidly promoting your own opinions and preconceived ideas, you may close off a path to better, alternate solutions. Meanwhile, silence keeps ALL possibilities open and available; it’s an incredibly powerful communication tool. If you must initiate a talk, be sure to follow tips 1 and 2 above, and then… drop it. Give him time to think about the problem you’ve presented and formulate his own solution. By giving him space (and a break from the discussion), you’ll often find that he works harder to create the best possible resolution.
The foundation of a healthy relationship is not necessarily 100% agreement on each of life’s issues, it’s mutual respect. The sign of a strong bond isn’t that you avoid arguing but that you try to engage as a team and put the needs of the team first.
In the end, if you approach your differences in a kind and intentional way, everybody wins.